Release Date: August 5th, 2013 (HBO)
Director: Tom Donahue
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Film Pulse Score: 6.5/10
Films just don’t cast themselves. Despite what they may say directors don’t cast their movies per se. Ultimately that job goes to the casting director and the director has the final say on who will play the part. The casting director’s job is to help a filmmaker realize their vision by presenting them possible actors to fill the roles they need to cast. Sometimes they plant ideas of actors who the director doesn’t see in the part or even try to convince them to look elsewhere when the actor they want just isn’t right. It’s a collaborative process and the art of casting is often unsung. You may recognize a name in the credits when they go by but have you ever really met one or knew about one? Odds are you haven’t. Tom Donahue’s entertaining documentary not only looks at the job of casting but profiles a true revolutionary in the business, Marion Dougherty.
Donahue’s documentary covers Dougherty’s prolific career from her humble beginnings as a casting assistant, to a casting assistant on television, to her own casting agency, to becoming President of Casting for some major studios. Over the decades she has worked with some heavy hitters in Hollywood, many of whom who got their start thanks to Dougherty’s tenacity to get them cast. A cavalcade of stars appears to share their memories of working with her, how they got their start and the impact she had on their career. Richard Donner recounts how she affected his life by suggesting Danny Glover for the role of Murtaugh in the first Lethal Weapon. Jon Voight shares how he blew his first acting job and how thankful he was that Dougherty stepped up to get him Midnight Cowboy. Directors like Martin Scorsese, Robert DeNiro and Woody Allen discuss their working relationship and how appreciative they were of her eye and ability to see what others don’t. Glenn Close and John Lithgow speak warmly about how she got them in The World According to Garp; a film for which they both received Oscar nominations.
While idolizing Dougherty, the documentary also provides an understanding of just what a casting director does. As we see, Dougherty was one of the best as many of her colleagues will attest Dougherty discusses her process from how she evaluates and remembers each person she meets, how she sneaks in her choices and wears down a director until they cast who she thought was right for the part and how she fought to get casting directors the credit they deserved. It was only in the last forty years or so that casting directors began receiving a “Casting By” on-screen credit.
Unfortunately despite the numerous anecdotes that are entertaining, heartfelt and enlightening director Donahue takes a significant misstep that put a troublesome pallor over all the cheerfulness. Over the course of the documentary we learn about ideas that weren’t very popular amongst the guilds, especially the Directors Guild of America, like being recognized as “casting directors” for one. During the conclusion we learn that efforts were put forth to get
Dougherty an honorary Oscar. The end result and how it is presented in the film comes off as a unnecessary political statement that while likely unintended points fingers at the very people who came forth to express their love and gratitude for Dougherty and her efforts. It could have done without the dramatic embellishments. As a result that’s what sticks with the viewer; at least it did for this one, until actors and directors began to share their emotional farewells Dougherty during the end credits.
This is an entertaining documentary but likely only for those who are in or love the industry. It is a fascinating look at a part of industry that we seldom ever here much about or may even take for granted. It features a large number of actors, directors and Hollywood movers-and-shakers sharing their stories but they are very entertaining when you hear about them and never dull. If not for that misstep in the last act this would have been a great tribute to a incredible pioneer in the industry. Instead we have a fine tribute with an unnecessary jab at the industry itself. Despite this it’s still worth watching if you are interested in stories about Hollywood and what goes on behind that curtain.